Icy Eyes

Antarctica rears its head all over the place, if only you are looking. That’s one lesson that’s become clear throughout my study on Antarctic advertisements – opening a local Tasmanian literary magazine, for instance, I was faced with Süd Polaire Antarctic Dry Gin (“balanced by pristine Tasmanian rainwater swept across a vast expanse of Southern ocean over polar ice from Antarctica; the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth.”), while the chairlifts of Mt Hutt ski field in NZ offered up an example of penguins and extremity in 2014. Then there are the penguins on chip packets, and the entertaining recasting of Heroic Era themes in TV advertisements for insurance or Guinness.

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Some of these mentions of Antarctica include direct links to the continent (advertisements for vehicles or clothing that have been used there, for instance). The majority, however, use symbolic links to associate a product with an aspect of the southern continent, such as purity, extremity, heroism, or fragility. Hence there are advertisements for washing powder that use the tagline “Ever wonder why Antarctica looks so clean and white?” or that use penguins to promote environmental values.

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Drive advert: The Australian Women’s Weekly. December 1999 

These symbolic links are what I’m interested in for my PhD project. They’re also a lot of fun to play with in the classroom. One of my favourite activities do do with my Antarctic Studies students involves writing down a type of product on a slip of paper – this can be anything – and then doing a lucky-dip so everyone chooses a word from the central container. The challenge is to think about what sorts of links that product might have to Antarctica – if the students were to create an advertising campaign based around a link (physical or symbolic), what might that be?

I’ve had surfboards so extreme they could take on sastrugi, boots that could hike across the continent and remain intact, sports cars with lower emissions presented against an icy backdrop, and soft drinks as refreshing as a blast of Antarctic air. Some advert proposals are similar to those we see recycled in other campaigns – the car on ice, for instance. Others are completely left-field, and offer new ways of thinking about the ice as well as the product in question. This task helps students think about what links could possibly be made, and means they start to look at advertisements that feature Antarctic in a different way, trying to get behind the initial message to do a more in-depth reading. Plus it gets the creative juices flowing, with full page sketches of proposed advertisements a final product to present at the end of the hour.

Keen to try this out? Go for it! How might a florist shop, a battery maker, a cellphone brand, or a building contractor use Antarctica in their advertising? Is this something you’ve seen in action before? And what exactly do you notice when you start looking with “icy eyes” and pay attention to the frozen imagery that circulates around your everyday spaces? Blink a few times, prepare your eyes, and it’s amazing what you’ll start to see…

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